Monday, August 18, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #20 - I Say, I Said--Choosing Tense

When you decide you’re going to write a novel, soon after you have imagined your characters and mapped out an outline, you’ll have to decide on tense and point of view. We covered point of view in the last chapter, which in a nutshell, is your decision on whether you’ll tell your story from first person perspective or third.
Once you’ve decided on that, you also need to decide on what tense you want to write it in. There are two tenses to choose from Present Tense and Past Tense.
Present tense gives the reader the sense that the action is happening just as the reader reads it. This can give the prose a feeling of immediacy, which can be very effective for thrillers and suspense stories. On the other hand, some readers find it distracting to be told that something is happening “right now”. Present tense can also be difficult to write.
Let’s look at DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth who writes in Present Tense
sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall to the floor in a dull, blond ring.
sneak a look at my reflection when she isn’t paying attention.
If Ms Roth had decided to write her book in Past Tense it would read like this.
sat on the stool and my mother stood behind me with scissors, trimming. The strands fell to the floor in a dull, blond ring.
sneaked a look at my reflection when she wasn’t paying attention.

The reason Present Tense is difficult is because when you are referring to things that happened in the past, you have to use past tense, even while writing in present tense.  
“I sit here writing this post. I drink my coffee. I type. Yesterday I did the same thing. I drank my coffee and typed.  The cat comes in to disturb me again. I love routine.”
See how, even though that paragraph is in present tense, when I referred to the past, I had to switch to past tense, but it’s still present tense prose.
This is it again in past tense.
“I sat there writing my post. I drank my coffee. I typed. Yesterday I had done the same thing. I drank my coffee and typed.  The cat came in to disturb me again today. I loved routine.”

Sometimes a story works best starting in one tense and then switching to another as I do in CLOCKWISE. I use present tense when she talks about her hair and how everyone has to live with something, but switch to past tense when she catches the ball at the school. The rest of the novel remains in past tense.
Be careful that you don’t mix your tenses back and forth. If you’re writing in past tense, don’t all of sudden switch to present and then back to past in the same scene. This is very easy to do, and is something to watch for during your revision process.

Things to watch for:
Present tense:  I say, he says, she says. I do or don’t, she does or doesn’t. I will or won’t, he will or won’t. I am writing, He is writing. I can or can't.
Past tense: I said, he said, she said. I did or didn’t, she did or didn’t. I would or wouldn’t, he would or wouldn’t. I was writing. He was writing. I could or couldn't.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip # 19 - Point of View

Your story has to be told by someone. That person is called the point of view character. Some stories are told by more than one point of view, or POV, characters.
Most Young Adult books are told from the First Person POV.  "I went to the store. I called my friend on the phone." It's a close story telling perspective because we are inside the main character's head all the time. We never leave. The advantage to First Person POV is the sense being in the front row of the action. The disadvantage is that you can only reveal information that the main character herself knows, when she knows it.
Clockwise is told in First Person: 
 I was sitting with my best friend, Lucinda, on the sidelines of the football field. As usual, we were watching the yummy football players rather than the scrimmage going on because really, who cared about the actual game? Despite the glare of the setting sun, I saw the brown speck hurtling towards me.
The most common form of story telling is Third Person, either Limited or  Omniscient.  When a story is told in  Third Person POV, the author uses Proper Names and Pronouns. "Kathy went to the store. She called her friend on the phone."
Limited means you stay in the head of one character and tell the story from their perspective. The author tells us the main character's thoughts and actions. Omniscient third is when the narrator (the author) jumps around from head to head when telling the story. We are told everyone's thoughts and actions.
Playing with Matches is told in Third Person Limited.
Emil Radle limped across the sloping field that was brittle and dry from lack of rain and irrigation. He lost his footing twice, falling, grabbing at his leg, his mouth opening in a wide teeth-baring groan. The first time he beat the pain, pulling himself back onto his feet, hunger pushing him on. The second time he gave into the primal urge to scream and cry, until sleep threatened to take him again. The warm sun beat down, heavy, his mind lapsing into a drug-like state.
Somewhere in his subconscious, he knew he couldn't stay here; if he did he would die. He pulled himself up again, shaky and quivering.

Second Person Pov is story telling with the use of  the pronoun "You" where the narrator is speaking directly to the reader and is rarely used in fiction."You went to the store. You called your friend on the phone."
Here's the rule of thumb: only tell one point of view at a time and (please) don't jump around from head to head in the same scene. If you have more than one point of view character, separate their narratives with new chapters or at least new scenes with a space dividing them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #18 - Super (8) Dialogue

Great dialogue reveals great character. How each of your characters’ speak reveal who they are and hopefully they’re interesting! And unique to the other characters around them.
Movies are an excellent media for show casing good dialogue.
The movie Super 8 has superb dialogue, especially between the kids. It’s realistic and revealing. Here is a scene at the beginning of the movie at a wake. A short conversation between two adults looking out of the window at a young teen boy on a swing in the snow tells us it’s the boy’s mother who died.  His friends are gathered around the food table.
Kid #1  What do you think was in the coffin?
Kid#2  Geeze, shut up.
Kid#1 I’m just saying because of how she died. You guys weren’t wondering that?
Kid #2 No, I’m eating macaroni salad.
Kid # 3 I was wondering about that too. I heard it crushed her completely.
Kid #2 Steel beam? Those things weigh a ton. Literally.
Kid#4 I don’t know how you guys can eat.
Kid #3 Try a turkey roll and you’ll discover how
(a man with a dog enters the scene asking  for Joe, the boys stare)
Kid#3 I bet Joe’s not going to want to do my movie anymore.
Kid #1 Why?
Kid#3 Why do you think why, the story. It’s about the living dead.
Kid #2 His mother’s not a zombie.
Kid #3 But she’s dead sh*t head.
Kid #1 Those turkey rolls are pretty good.
Kid #3 Told you.
 This is just a scene of a group of boys talking, but what they say and how they say it tells us so much about what kind of kids they are and what has brought them to this point. You already want to spend the next couple hours hanging out with them.

True Grit, True Brilliance in Dialogue
Another great movie with terrific dialogue is True Grit a movie based on the novel by Charles Portis.
Here are two scenes that happen early on. Mattie's character alone is enough to keep you reading, uh-hum, watching even though she hasn't even started on her quest yet.
In this scene Mattie looking for Marshal Rooster Cockburn. (How great is that name?) She knocks on outhouse door. We never even see Cockburn's face.
R:  (Low, rough, smoker's voice).The place is occupied.
M: I know it is occupied, like I said I have business with you.
R: I have prior business.
M: You’ve been at it for quite some time.
R: (angry) There’s no clock on my business! (bangs on the door). The hell with you. How did you stalk me here?
M: The Sheriff told me to look in the saloon. In the saloon they referred me here. We must talk.
R: Women ain’t allowed in the saloon.
M: Wasn’t there as a customer. I’m fourteen years old.
R: (silence) Well, the place is occupied. Will be for some time.
You have to love Mattie's tenacity. It's obvious that these two characters are extreme opposites, full of conflict. We want to see more scenes with them together. 
This is a scene not too long afterwards. Mattie negotiates with the clerk her father bought ponies from. I didn't catch his name, but he's an older, white haired business man who's round in the belly. This conversation moves very quickly: the clerk starts off with a patronizing tone, soon to realize he's met his match in a young girl. 
M: I’m Mattie Ross. Daughter of Frank Ross
C:  Oh. Tragic thing. May I say your father impressed me with his manly qualities, he was a close trader but he acted the gentlemen.
M: I propose to sell the ponies back to you, that my father bought.
C: Now that  here is out of the question, will  see to it that they’re shipped to you at my earliest convenience.
M: We don’t want the ponies, we don’t need them
C: That hardly concerns me, your father bought them and paid for them and that there is the end of it . I have the bill of sale.
M: And I want three hundred dollars for the saddle horse that was stolen from your stables.
C: You have to take that up with the man who stole the horse.
M: Tom Chaney stole the horse while it was in your care. You are responsible.
C:I admire your sand, but I believe you will find that I’m not liable for such claims.
M:You were the custodian. If you were a bank that was robbed, you couldn’t simply just tell the depositors to go hang.
C: I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world as it is is vexing enough. Secondly, your evaluation of the horse is high by about two hundred dollars. How old are you?
M: If anything my price is low.  Judy is a fine mare, I’ve seen her jump a fence with a heavy rider. I’m fourteen.
C:That’s all very interesting. The ponies are yours, take them. Your father's horse was stolen by a  murderous  criminal. I had provided reasonable protection for the creature as per our implicit agreement. My watchmen had his teeth knocked out and can take only soup.
M: I’ll take it to law.
C: You have no case.
M: Lawyer Dacket (from?) might think otherwise, as might a jury. Petitioned by a widow and three small children.
C: I will pay two hundred dollars to your father’s estate when I have in my hand a letter from your lawyer absolving me of all liability from the beginning of the world to date.
M: I will take two hundred dollars for Judy, plus one hundred dollars for the ponies and twenty-five dollars for the grey horse that Tom Chaney left. He was easily worth forty. That’s three hundred and twenty-five...
C: the ponies have no part in this, I will not buy them.
M: And the price for Judy is three hundred and twenty-five dollars.
C: Ha, I would not pay three hundred and twenty-five dollars for a winged Pegasus. And as for the grey horse, it does not belong to you.
M: The grey horse was lent to Tom Chaney by my father. Chaney only had the use of him.
C: I will pay two hundred and twenty-five dollars and keep the grey horse. I won’t take the ponies.
M: (she stands) I can’t accept that. If there is no settlement after I leave this office it will go to law.
C: All right, this is my last offer. Two hundred fifty dollars I get the release previously discussed, and I keep your father’s saddle. The grey horse is not yours to sell.
M:  The saddle is not for sale. I will keep it. Lawyer D will prove my ownership of the grey horse and he will come after you with a writ of  (? didn't catch the word)
C: A what?
M: A writ of rec....
C: (exasperated) Oh, alright, now listen very carefully as I will not bargain further. I will take the ponies back and the grey horse, which is mine, and settle, (pause) for three hundred dollars. And you can take that or leave it and I do not much care which way it is.
M: Well, lawyer Dacket would not wish me to settle for anything under three hundred twenty-five dollars, but I will settle for three twenty, if I get the twenty in advance, and  here’s what I have to say about that saddle.

End of scene. 
Isn't that fabulous? You just want to stand and cheer for the girl. Did you notice how much we learned about her character, just in the way she spoke with a man who could very well have intimidated her? These strong scenes make her situation, a 14 year old girl traveling with one sometimes two US Marshals to find her father's killer and bring him to justice is suddenly believable. 
Dialogue has to sound natural, and be believable. Less is often more. Do you have a favorite movie or book that has dialogue that inspires you?